Saturday, February 9, 2013

it’s not always your content...

originally posted on the posterous site. february 14, 2011 at 09:00:00am

this is another one of professional posts, so my friends probably won’t want to read this one, but my other readers might....

that said, the business of e-newsletters and e-mail marketing is a constantly changing, constantly challenging one. it is a delicate balance of relevant content and reader engagement…you are constantly looking for the appropriate teaser text that won’t give away the story, but will engage the reader and entice them to click on the link to read the rest of the article, or fill out a form, or drive impressions.

but what do you have left once you have optimized the delivery of your emails and get great content from a staff of content providers that “get it”? have you considered that maybe your templates are stale, and by stale i mean overexposed, old, and no longer pleasing to the eye of your audience? we did, but there was always some excuse not to change out the templates - time, resouces, money, access to the build/send system...

there in lies the biggest challenge for marketing people, how to change out your template, while retaining your open rates and more importantly your brand. just like a favorite beverage we all can pick out periodicals more by branding then we can title – yellow rectangles, big red serif fonts…the elements of brand are visible in the print world, why not the digital world? our websites are all branded and prominently display the logo – don’t sacrifice all that hard work by not carrying it over in your digital communication.

when i started at my current job, our templates were probably four years old, yet our website’s look was probably only two. the templates were nothing short of stale, dated and well while utilitarian, just not up to snuff and surely not compatible with a mobile viewer. sure our readers were still opening them, the content is always compelling, timely and well written, but lets face it…our communication’s presentation, was like going to a five-star restaurant and getting your bacon-wrapped filet mignon served to you on a paper plate…presentation is everything.

we worked with our in-house creative services team to come up with new templates, ones that would incorporate suggestions made by our email consultant, return path, that would build on best practices and ones that are consistent with our brand.

guess what happened? click thru to the website, time spent on the website and the number of pages per visit increased by thirty-plus percent. that thirty-plus percent also lead to the significant increase in the number of on-site ad impressions increasing, which resulted in an increase of income – and that was for just one set of templates, we currently have ten templates that we send out in any given week. imagine what new templates for all of those would do! oh and guess what all those clicks say to your readers isp’s? that your reader is not only opening the email, but that they are engaged with your newsletter and better the engagement, the better the inbox rate.

how did you do it you ask? well it’s simple, good old a/b testing. in our test cases though it was a/b/c testing, followed by a/b testing. because we have an in-house design team, and at the time i was working on a digital design diploma at the time and needed to demonstrate grid design for a class, we came up with three options (creative services did two and i came up with one), because we didn’t have to pay an outside design firm. the first two rounds of testing were all three templates and the control (the original template). after looking at click thru and open rates on those, we were able to clearly get rid of one of them, and we ran a final round of a/b testing to confirm our suspicions. so basically all told, within a month of getting the new templates from design, we had chosen and implemented the final design.

somethings to keep in mind when you are testing and developing:

  1. what do your readers respond too? you want the templates to be branded enough so that they know that it’s your communication, but also fresh enough to engage the reader. 
  2.  organization is important. organizing your newsletter consistently either in sections or in a logical order, leads to ease of reading for your reader and better engagement of that reader.
  3. mobile versions. we have not adopted mobile versions, but we know that our mobile readership is actually higher than the stats you read online and what are considered “industry standard”. if you haven’t adopted a mobile website or mobile templates, keep your templates “skinny”. meaning that they shouldn’t be so wide that readers have to scroll to the right to read everything on their mobile device. iphone does a great job of making things readable on the small screen, but know that it’s not fail proof and that sometimes your emails may not render properly.
  4. an email consultant like return path is not your enemy when it comes time to redesign your templates. but wait, doesn’t my consultant just monitor my inbox rates and look for deliverability issues? well sure they do that, but our consultant actually renders our emails in different browsers and different clients and publishes that image for us. this report was beyond helpful to us. we already knew the make up of our database and that report told us where our coder needed to spend his time.
  5. use marketing best practices  along with your own. it's your program, they are your readers and you know what they respond too.
  6. brand yourself. carry over your site's brand to your email -- keep colors, fonts, imagery all consistent from one outlet to another. if your newsletter has a cool name that is recognizable  use it in the subject line, but remember that it takes away from the subject line length, 35 - 50 characters/five to six words.

so for me, it wasn’t our content, it was just that our templates were designed to be viewed on a commodore 64 and just not doing our site, our content providers or our readers any service. the moral of the story is to look at best practices, follow the trends, watch technology blogs for emerging technology and talk with your team – your analytics people, your content providers and if you have an email consultant talk with them about things and to finally consider “it’s not your content, it’s the paper plate it’s being served on”.

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